HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Pentagon’s top research and engineering official said while he thinks Congress has funded hypersonic weapons well, the rub is getting industry to produce complex parts at scale.
Michael Griffin, the Pentagon’s under secretary of defense for research and engineering, told reporters here at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium on Wednesday that he does not see a need to further boost hypersonic weapon funding immediately.
“We’ve actually been, I think, very well treated by the Congress in the area of hypersonics and getting that back on track,” Griffin said. While more money is better because it allows the government to conduct more activities in parallel rather than in sequence, “given the support we’ve had over the last year or so, I’m not this year asking for quote ‘more money’ in hypersonics. I’m asking for more money in some other arenas.”
“We have a number of robust programs in the hypersonic offense area at this point. I want my goal is to see them through,” he added.
Griffin underscored the focus going forward will be getting industry to be able to produce these capabilities quickly at scale.
For example, hypersonic high-speed upper atmosphere weapons require a greater degree of thermal protection than the U.S. has had to produce in the past.
“We know how to produce those one or two at a time. Ok, so that means we understand the physics, great. We need to understand the industrial engineering of that, how do we produce those by the dozens.”
However, Griffin said this is an industry problem. “I’m not sure how much help the government can be there. Mass production is not what we do.”
These kinds of systems also have to be affordable.
“Our adversaries have clearly found ways to make them affordable, China has these things now by the thousands. What do we do to learn once again how to produce sophisticated things at scale and affordably? That too is a manufacturing & industrial engineering challenge,” Griffin added.
Griffin acknowledged there are some “neat and interesting technological challenges” like managing drag in maneuvering vehicles and controlling bleeding edges and control surfaces.
“But really from where I sit, production at scale is our issue,” Griffin said.
Relatedly, Griffin responded mildly to statements by the chair of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Rep. Pete Visclosky’s (D-Ind.). Visclosky recently said at a conference that hypersonic programs were getting cut in the House FY 2020 budget because some justification aspects in the budget request were “lacking.”
“Well, I’m sorry Congressman Visclosky feels that way. I think we have done our level best to explain why hypersonic strike and hypersonic defense are critical,” Griffin said.
“Other congressional committees have accepted that, so I guess the burden is on me to try to provide a better explanation. I believe the requirement is intensely real and its my job to explain why that’s so,” he added.